Monday, February 12, 2018

A Life Of Influence

A Life Of Influence

1st Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt in a Christian family with Christian friends. It was understood that church was where we would be on Sundays and Wednesdays. If I stayed over at a friends house on Saturday night I knew I would be going with their family to church on Sunday morning and vice versa. Once I grew up and began to travel to different places I not only met people with different views and backgrounds than mine, I at times also became a minority.

There’s a book written several years back about the history of Saturday Night Live. Back in the eighties there was a female comedian on the show named Victoria Jackson. You may remember her, she was blonde with a high pitched voice and played the ukulele. In this book they ask the cast members to share their thoughts about their fellow performers. When they asked about Victoria Jackson the quote they picked to describe her was “She’s a born again Christian, she’s like from Mars, [we] never really got her.” (1)

She was a minority among her peers. I’ve been there. I have been the lone Christian in a group before and I've had the quizzical looks, the questions, and occasionally the self-conscious shyness, that go with it. I’ve been asked before “Why are you Christians so weird?” but I would much rather hear that question than hear “You Christians act no different than the rest of us.”

You see it is when we are “weird” or “different” that we have influence. That is when people notice that we’re following something that is opposite from what the world is following and maybe it is something worth following. When the world sees wholehearted commitment from the church to be different from the world then the world notices and wants to learn more. That is influence.

Here Paul tells the church to be steadfast and immovable. In the world today there is always a pull away from our faith. The world wants to desperately change us to look more like them but at the same time they are intrigued by why we do not look like them. If we hold to Paul’s advice and trust God for the outcome then we have the opportunity to influence the world and show them that following God is in fact different, and at times difficult, but it is also so worth it!

Be different!  Be weird!  Live a life of influence!

To discover more, visit www.http://oakgrovebaptistchurchtn.com/ 

References: (1) Live From New York! Location 6031, Tom Shales and James Miller

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Purpose Of Life



The Purpose Of Life


Philippians 3:14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. [HCSB]

What is your purpose in life?  Is it merely to survive? Is it to gather things or build a reputation?  What if our life is meant to be more than that?  What if our purpose goes beyond our occupation or family or place?  What if those are merely tools God has given us to accomplish our purpose in life?

Our purpose in life is to glorify God.  To praise and recognize His importance in everything.  No matter what else we may be doing we are to glorify God.  Not because He needs it - we can't add to His glory it is already infinite - but because glorifying God completes us.  It is, after all, what we were created to do.  Every moment of our life is meant to be a living breathing devotion to God and His glory.

Webster’s defines devotion as an act of love, loyalty or enthusiasm. The Apostle Paul was fully devoted to his purpose in life. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul described his devotion as running for a goal he knew he could not reach in this life - to be more like Christ.  Jesus always glorified His Father through every action He took and every word He spoke.  The goal of Paul's devotion then, and ours today, is to follow Jesus' perfect example in glorifying God.


How we do that is going to be different because God has created each of us to be different. He has given us various gifts and talents, put us in positions to learn various skills so obviously He does not intend all of us to glorify Him the same way. You may have a secular job that you love that is fulfilling - great use it to glorify God. Be a witness, start a bible study or a prayer time. You may stay at home - great check on your neighbors, love your neighborhood, encourage those on your street. Look for any opportunity God gives you to point others to Him and for you to grow closer to Him.

You see, the Christian life is not spent sitting idly waiting for something to happen, it is an active, chasing, running faith - a pursuit! When your mindset becomes one of devotion to Him then you begin to see Him in parts of your life you didn’t realize before.

I love how Warren Wiersbe describes this passage in his commentary: "Many Christians are self-satisfied because they compare their “running” with that of other Christians, usually those who are not making much progress. Had Paul compared himself with others, he would have been tempted to be proud and perhaps to let up a bit. After all, there were not too many believers in Paul’s day who had experienced all that he had or accomplished all that he had! But Paul did not compare himself with others; he compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ." (1)

One thing I can promise you is that our purpose in life is not to build a name for ourselves. Our purpose has to be more than that because the things we strive for are more than the things of this world. More than money or fame or even respect.  Our purpose goes beyond this life.

How are you doing in your devotion to God in your daily life?  If you are like me you are far from perfect at it.  Remember these wise words from Jeff Iorg:
“Ask yourself: Am I changing to be more like Jesus? Progress, not perfection, is the goal”. - Jeff Iorg
To discover more, visit www.http://oakgrovebaptistchurchtn.com/ 

References: (1) Be Joyful by Warren Wiersbe

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Value of Life


The Value Of Life


Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? [HCSB]

It is amazing, and confounding, how our modern society on one hand says we are our own masters, no one and certainly no god can tell us what to do. While on the other hand saying we are nothing more than animals, a hapless cosmic accident wandering among other accidents. No wonder so many people are anxious and confused!

A recent report on our local NBC affiliate WRCB stated that suicides in the state of Tennessee are at their highest point in 35 years. (1) On average 3 people commit suicide in our state every single day and the suicide rates are increasing in every age bracket and demographic. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor - money doesn’t prevent it. Doesn’t matter if you are white or black or young or old, or healthy or sick. Race, age and health doesn’t prevent it.

When we lower the value of human life we lower the value of living. Why put up with the hassles of life - the worry, the stress, the anxiety, if our life is not worth more than the lowest animal.

In the past weeks we have seen a mass shooting at a school in Kentucky, numerous murders and assaults - and that's just the stuff that make the news. How many babies were aborted this week? How many young girls sold into sex trafficking? How many children abused and neglected? How many people mistreated because of their skin color or their age? We must realize that being pro life is more than being anti abortion, because our view of life and our understanding of the value of life has consequences far beyond birth. If my life is of no consequence in this world than neither are my actions. If I think my life and your life have no value then what difference does it make how I act or treat others. What does it matter who I hurt, if all of this is meaningless.

We live in a world full of violence and self hatred and all of the worry and stress that comes with it because we deny our role in creation and God’s role in our life.

In Matthew 6 Jesus explains that with God showing such intricate care for even the smallest of creation that we, who are created in God's image, truly have nothing to worry about. His point is not that this world will be easy but that in this world we will not be alone, and our existence is more than this world. But this anxiety He warns against is exactly what happens when we deny God’s providential care for all of Creation and specifically his care for humanity. If we deny the value of human life then this idea will have consequences.

One of these consequences will be taking from us a faith which fights against worry and anxiety. We have everything to worry about and nothing to hope for if we are just a random, cosmic accident, with no worth and no providential care.

But what if Jesus is right? What if we stop and look at Jesus’ words and make the radical leap that He is telling us the truth. That there is a Fatherly God who is not far off and distant but present and active in creation. That this Heavenly Father actually knows you, not just in passing, but in intimate detail, and that He cares for you personally.

Would that mean something to you? What if this same God created you not just to take up space but to have a purpose and that He wants you to succeed in that purpose? Would that give you peace in the midst of a crazy and chaotic world? What if this same God loved you so much that He sent His Son to die for you to pay an infinite price so that you could have life? What value would your life have then?

In verse 33, Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God, why? To keep us busy and blinded and beat down? No! Because that is where we find value, we find meaning, we find purpose - it is in the kingdom of God where we find life itself and life in abundance! The kingdom of God is our home and that is where our life has true value.

To discover more, visit www.http://oakgrovebaptistchurchtn.com/ 

References: (1) http://www.wrcbtv.com/story/37234357/suicides-in-tennessee-reach-record-breaking-high

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Is All Growth Good?

"Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude." Colossians 2:6-7 [HCSB]



Do you ever like to be stopped in your tracks?  I mean to have a surprise come out of something you think you know so well that it catches you off guard and makes you think.  Recently I was reading a sermon by Chris Talton and it made me stop, reread scripture and think about what it truly says and not just what I think it says.  In the sermon he said this:
Growing is not enough. Unproductive uncontrolled growth is cancer. Good growth is growth in the right direction. In order for that to happen, we have to be grounded in Jesus Christ, the only right foundation. [1]
In our culture we push growth for growth's sake.  Is our church growing? Am I growing? We worry about the rate of growth but do we ever stop and worry about the quality of growth?  That short paragraph made me stop and think about how I am growing… and is it healthy.  For example, I can fill my head with all the background facts of Bible passages and the context and cultural understanding  - that is growth.  But if along with that knowledge my heart doesn’t grow to show the love and compassion that lays at the heart of the Bible then my growth is unproductive, uncontrolled, and unspiritual.  Was my growth based on my simple desire to be more like Christ in how I live my life or was it pride in how much more I know today than yesterday?


Was my “growth” hurting my witness?


I went back to one of my favorite passages on growth, Colossians 2, to see what scripture actually said.  Here Paul is addressing false teachings that were becoming popular at Colossae.  He warns his readers to not be taken prisoner by earthly traditions and philosophies - in other words know the sound doctrine of the faith.  That is usually where I focus when I read this passage - knowing the sound doctrine of the faith.  However, before Paul even gets there he says, very simply, for us to be rooted in Christ Himself, to walk with Him… overflowing with gratitude.


That is when it hit me.  My growth should not only be measured by how much doctrine I know (though sound doctrine is important) but by how Christ like I live.  If my growth gets out of whack, if my head knowledge starts to exceed my heart knowledge, then my growth risks becoming dangerous, unspiritual.  I risk becoming someone who spouts out doctrinal truth at people without showing them first the love that is the true reflection of our faith.  


Doctrine without love or grace is a witness to a cold, dead faith built on traditions and rules.  How good is my witness then?  Likewise if I strive to show love to people but I am afraid or ignorant of true doctrine then my witness is merely one of temporary kindness without eternal truth.


My personal growth must be balanced in love and truth.  For our churches to grow, we must be balanced in love and truth.  How are you growing today?

[1] Chris Talton “I Don’t Want To Grow Up!”

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Who Is Your Barnabas?

1st Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.

Have you ever had someone come up to you at just the right time and say what you needed to hear to pick you up and get you going again? Someone who was there for you, encouraged you with word and deed, and helped you if even in a small way?

Who was it?

On the flip side have you ever had someone come up at exactly the wrong time and say something negative that pulls you down? Something that made you feel horrible and worthless?

Who was it?

Why is it usually easier to bring to mind the one who hurt us instead of the one who encouraged us? Why do we wake up at night gritting our teeth remembering the one who wronged us? Why do we fail to be thankful for the encourager even when we appreciate the results of the encouragement?

In the biblical book of Acts we meet a man named Barnabas who was known as the “Son of Encouragement”. Nearly everyone, Christian or not, has heard of the Apostle Paul but not even many Christians know all that Barnabas did. However if it weren't for this man then Paul would have never gotten his foot in the door, the term “Christian” would most likely not be known and the Gospel of Mark may have never been written. (1)

Barnabas stood up for Paul in the Jerusalem church, and discipled him in his ministry. He encouraged and supported the church at Antioch were the term “Christian” - meaning little Christ – was first used to describe believers. He took famine relief to the church in Jerusalem and he took a chance on a young somewhat skittish missionary named John Mark who would later pen the gospel that bears his name.

We remember the result of the encouragement even though we forget the encourager. However God never forgets when we take the time out to pour a little bit of ourselves – and Him – into the lives of others. God did not forget Barnabas and His word describes him as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” (Acts 11:24 – HCSB). What a wonderful, eternal testimony!

So my question to you today is who is your Barnabas? Who is your encourager? Do you remember them and if you do have you thanked them?

And if you ever feel like the encouragement you have shared with others is getting drowned out in the business of life, take heart. Even if everyone else has forgotten the kindness you have done, your Heavenly Father has not.


Discover more in this week's podcast "Choosing Love: Love Encourages"

Till next time,
God Bless!

(1) See Acts chapters 4, 9, 11 & 15 among others as well as this entry in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

NOTE: This series was written to coincide with the Bible Studies For Life series "Like Glue" by Pastor Ben Mandrell available here.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Who Is Your Samaritan?

Luke 10: 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Who is the one type of person you could never show love to? Who is the one that you expect God to give you a pass on when it comes to showing love, forgiveness and grace to. We all have that person or group of people that we hold out of our heart and say surely God doesn't want me to love them!

For some of us it is a cultural bias. Maybe someone of a different race or with different political views. For others it may be more personal – a father who was abusive or a friend who betrayed you. Whatever the justification we all have the person or people who we will not show love to.

In the gospel of Luke chapter 10, Jesus was approached by a scribe who asked how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus pointed him back to the scriptures, emphasizing the need to love God above everything else and to love our neighbor as our self. Then the man asked a follow up question. “Who is my neighbor?”

This was more than an intellectual exercise. This man was looking for an excuse. Perhaps a more honest way to ask this question would be to say “If I have to love my neighbor then tell me who is not my neighbor so I know who I can freely hate.”

In response Jesus told a story – and not just because He is a masterful story teller, though He is. Jesus looked into the heart of this man and saw his prejudice. He picked the one group of people despised by the Jews above nearly all else – the Samaritans – and used them as the best example of loving your neighbor. The Jews of the first century hated the Samaritans. They would walk miles out of their way to avoid Samaritan villages. Anyone who had contact with a Samaritan was considered unclean. That is what made this story so shocking. A Samaritan saving a Jew. Imagine a member of ISIS saving the life of a Coptic Christian and you begin to understand the impact of Jesus' story.

The unasked question to the scribe is clear: “Would you show the same love to a Samaritan as the Samaritan showed in this parable?”

You see we all have Samaritans in our life, the ones we expect God to give us a pass on or an excuse to leave out. Yet God's answer is still the same. We are to love them just as God loves us. Fortunately God realizes that amount of unconditional love is impossible for us on our own, that is why He sent His Son to save us and His Spirit to empower us. It is through God that we can truly realize that everyone – regardless of our differences – is our neighbor and choose to show them love.

Discover more in this week's podcast "Choosing Love: Love Is An Action." 

Till next time,
God Bless

NOTE: This series was written to coincide with the Bible Studies For Life series "Like Glue" by Pastor Ben Mandrell available here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Walking In the Light and Seeing The Truth

This past Sunday I shared the following story: 
While finishing his studies in medical school a young intern was tasked to go each Monday to a state run psychiatric institution and make his rounds so that he could better grasp the range of mental illness. Each Monday he would show up, be given a list of patients to visit and then an orderly would unlock the door to the ward and quickly lock it back after he walked through. One Monday while walking through the ward a doctor called over to him and offered to accompany him as he visited the patients. The doctor gave him detailed information on each patient and the treatment they were being given. He used terminology in a polished, professional way that would have made the intern's professors proud. He greatly helped the young intern better understand the scope mental illness and the way to treat it. As they walked back to the locked door with the orderly standing guard, the intern turned and shook the doctors hand, thanking him for his invaluable information and signaled for the orderly to unlock the door. The orderly then told him that he could freely leave – but the patient he was speaking to would have to stay behind. (1)
I used this story to illustrate how so very often sickness doesn't look like sickness, and the sin in our life doesn't always look like sin.  It is easy for us to look around and even at ourselves and not see
the sickness that is everywhere. The biggest challenge to our walk with Christ is sometimes knowing where the darkness is – especially the darkness within ourselves. That is one of the key points from the book of 1st John in the New Testament.
9  The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.11  But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. [1 John 2:9-11 HCSB]  Read more at http://msb.to/1Jn2:9

However even though the young intern in the story was fooled and led astray at least he was LOOKING.  He was earnestly trying to understand and help the patients at the hospital.  Far too often those of us who know what to look for don't bother even looking in the first place - it's as if our eyes are blinded.  But I have a shocking truth for you, Jesus wants us to look and to see the hurting people around us.

The Apostle John describes the Christian faith as walking in the light, and if we truly walk the way Jesus walked then that light in our life should be used to see the truth of those around us.  We are surrounded by people who are hurting, in need, and lost in this world.  There are three ways we can respond.  We can close our eyes and refuse to see, we can let the world lead us astray into thinking there is nothing wrong, or we can follow the example of Christ and not only see the people in need around us but move to help them with the same compassion God has shown to us.  To walk in the light we must love our brother.

Join us this Sunday, January 18 at Oak Grove Baptist as we start a new study in our morning small groups called "Ready: Ministering to Those in Crisis" by Chip Ingram and I start preaching a companion series I have written called Christ in the Crisis looking at the traits Christ exhibited when encountering people in trouble.

(1) I found this story in my files but unfortunately I do not have a source listed with it and I had no luck in tracking one down on Google.  If anyone knows the source of this illustration, please share it with me in the comments. Thank you.